Alan N. Shapiro, Hypermodernism, Hyperreality, Posthumanism

Blog and project archive about media theory, science fiction theory, and creative coding

Towards a Unified Existential Science of Humans and Androids, by Alan N. Shapiro

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I just returned from Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria.

This is a comment about the talk about androids given by Hiroshi Ishiguro during the “Science & Art I” conference at the Lentos Kunstmuseum during THE BIG PICTURE symposium.

Professor Ishiguro’s talk was very interesting and enjoyable. However, I think that he makes one important conceptual mistake in his perspective on androids. He is very close to the correct position, but he is separated from it by one major conceptual error (in my opinion).

It is correct and important to focus on androids as a way to understand humans, as Ishiguro does.
But this is only half of what needs to be done. We need to also have a perspective that comes from “utopian thinking” — in other words, what can humans become in the future, how can humans become better and more happy than they are today? (and how can androids teach us this)
The human being as he/she is today, in our society, is too much focused on work, and has a mind/body split. Humans need to develop more: emotions, feelings, movement, mobility, flexibility, dance, sport, empathy, social interaction, heart, optimism.The human being as he/she is today is too rational, too head-centered.
The human being needs to change from what the human being is today, and androids can be our teachers in these dimensions.
I gave a talk about androids and robots at Ars Electronica in 2010 (at the symposium sponsored by the Honda ASIMO project). My talk received very positive feedback from many people who were in attendance.
Presented at ARS ELECTRONICA 2010, Festival for Art, Technology and Society, Linz, Austria, Sept. 9, 2010

Presented with the reality, which is at the same time still half-fictional, of bringing robots or androids into our social world, I believe that we are being offered the gift of an opportunity for humanity to grow and develop, to untangle the knots binding us to our current stagnation, to improve our lives. To have living or semi-living beings in our midst who both resemble humans and are different from humans, who are created with technologies rather than coming to life through procreation, is an opportunity to change ourselves…

Linz, Austria, view from Hotel Wolfinger

Linz, Austria, view from Hotel Wolfinger

To turn now to my alternative positive and hopeful vision about androids, I will now speak as an interdisciplinary thinker. I will speak briefly about the current state of knowledge in various academic and scientific fields. There is much new knowledge brewing. If we look at robotics as an engineering science, if we look at recent developments in brain science, if we check out what is going on in Gestalt Therapy and in the inauguration of serious dialogue between Western psychology and Eastern Buddhism, in mind-body medicine, in dance theory and practice, in technological art, in sociology where there is a kind of existential, literary, quantum physics, and neo-Durkheimian sociology emerging, in New Economics of sustainability and scalability, in New Computer Science and in New Biology, in research into the Car and the Train and the Plane of the Future, in architecture and design of the Shopping Mall and the Department Store of the Future, then we will see that there is much new knowledge brewing. This is very exciting. My thesis, however, is that this new knowledge that is brewing is not really applicable to human beings as they have been so far. Human beings as they have been until now are not flexible or creative enough, they do not have the relationship to time or space, to be, by themselves, the right species for applying all of this new and fantastic knowledge. As an alternative, all of this new knowledge should be applicable to the unified subject-object of inquirer and inquiry which will be humans and androids. Humans and androids engaged in dialogue with each other, a quantum dual reality for our scientific-academic project, a radical yet playful antagonism, to invoke a term from the German philosopher Hegel.

What in the Anglo-American world are usually called the social sciences and the humanities are in Continental Europe called the human sciences. But the human sciences are now obsolete. In the era of technology which is the 21st century, humanity alone is no longer the suitable field of study. The ground is shaking beneath our feet. Michel Foucault already sensed this sea change. In his great book The Order of Things, Foucault wrote: “As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, Man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end. If those arrangements [which define Man] were to disappear as they appeared, if some event… were to cause them to crumble, as the ground of Classical Thought did, at the end of the eighteenth century, then one can certainly wager that Man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.”

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